Entebbe
Next month will mark the forty first anniversary of Israel’s finest hour, the hostage rescue at Entebbe. When the crisis began in June of 1976, Israel firmly believed that the fate of the Jewish hostages was the legal responsibility of France, under whose flag the airplane had flown when it was hijacked. But, on the fifth day of the crisis, when all, but the Jewish hostages, were released, the Israeli government realized that Jews were once again, alone in the world.

History would repeat itself. Only nine years earlier, when Egypt crossed the Suez and threatened to invade, the world powers refused to help and Israel was left alone in the world. Thirty years earlier, when five Arab States attacked, no one came to it’s aid and Israel was left alone in the world. Thirty-five years earlier when Jews were broiling in gas chambers, the Jew was left alone in the world.

But the time for dying had come to an end. The Jew now had the means to fight back and with trust in the Creator, they set out to the rescue. It was Israel’s finest hour.

Alone in The World
The Torah tell us that if an impoverished Jew is forced to sell his ancestral home, his closest relative should come to his rescue and repurchase the ancestral home. And if a man has no rescuer, if he is alone in the world, he is entitled to buy back his own home, when he finds the money.

Our sages were shocked when they read this verse. How can it be that a Jew should have no rescuer, how can a Jew be alone in the world? So long as there is a fellow Jew, a Jew is not alone in the world. They explained that every Jew has many potential rescuers, but since they are not obligated to come to his rescue, it is possible that a Jew could be left alone in the world.

Rashi, the famed Biblical commentator, offered a different answer. Rashi explained that the Torah here refers to a situation in which his fellow Jew does not have sufficient funds to rescue him. All the commentators wondered why Rashi offered a different explanation from the one offered in the Talmud. Each explained it in his own way. Allow me to offer a poignant reflection.

Rashi addressed his commentary to the five-year-old student, who is reading the Torah for the first time. Rashi, the seasoned teacher, knows that no Jewish child can fathom the possibility of a Jew with means refusing to help a fellow Jew in need. A Jew is never alone in the world.

Thus Rashi concludes that the Torah speaks of a scenario in which the fellow Jew wants to help, but sadly cannot. During the Holocaust, Jews wanted to rescue their brethren, but lacked the means. But going forward, Jews would never be alone in the world. Now Jews had the means and if they had the means, they felt an obligation. They would never leave a fellow Jew to suffer. And they didn’t.

Begin’s Bible Group
Less than a year later, Israel elected a new government and Menachem Begin was the new Prime Minister. Once again, Israel faced pressure from the nations, this time it was the American President, Jimmy Carter, who wanted to force Israel to negotiate peace with the Palestinian Liberation Organization, a body committed to the destruction of the Jewish State.

Just before departing for Washington, Prime Minister Begin invited twenty Biblical scholars to his home for what was to become a weekly Bible Study on Saturday nights.

Prime Minister Begin opened the discussion on the verse, “Israel Shall Dwell Alone, it shall not be reckoned among the nations.” He applied the verse to the contemporary age, pointing out that Israel sits alone at the United Nations. Each nation belongs to a regional bloc bound by geography, religion, history, culture and language. But Israel sits alone in the world. No nation shares our unique narrative.

The scholars began to chime in, pointing out that Israel dwells alone of its own volition. It wants to remain apart from the nations because its mandate is not merely nationhood, but also faith. Israel has two birth moments, the Exodus and Sinai. At the Exodus we became a nation and at Sinai we became a faith. As a faith nation, our relations with the community of nations will never normalize.

A dignified woman in her fifties asked for the floor. This was the revered scholar, Nechama Leibowitz, whose commentaries and classes were immensely popular. She pointed out that the word Yitchashav, translated as reckoned, “shall not be reckoned among the nations,” is rendered in the reflexive form, which gives the meaning, “this is a people that does not reckon itself among the nations.”

The nations don’t reckon us; when we are in trouble, they don’t come to our aid. We rescue ourselves and have learned not to expect help from others. But do we lament this lack of reckoning or do we welcome it? Do we take pride in standing alone or are we desperate to be part of the group? How do we reckon ourselves?

This is a hard hitting question. The principle aim of Zionism was normalization. It was hoped that when Jews had a land, they would be a nation among nations. But acceptance isn’t the Jew’s mandate. We were charged at Sinai to be G-d’s people on earth, not the people’s people. When we confront the lack of acceptance among the nations, we should not feel that we have lost our place in the world.

We are a nation that dwells alone and does not reckon itself among nations. They badger us, they remonstrate with us and they fail to come to our aid. That is our lot. But our roll is lofty. Our mandate is noble. Our goals, are higher. We are G-d’s people on earth.

Finding Respect
The lasting question is, why don’t the nations see us that way, why don’t they respect us?

I suggest the answer can best be summed up in the words of Lord, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. “Non Jews respects Jews that respect Judaism. Non Jews don’t respect Jews that don’t respect Judaism.”

If our goal is to be reckoned among the nations, the nations will not reckon with us. If our goal is to be a light among the nations, they will respect us. Not as their member, but as their light. They will not be our friends, they will not be our rescuers; in that sense, we will be alone in the world. But begrudgingly, they will learn from us. And in the end, they will respect us.

I close with the momentous words that the Lubavitcher Rebbe of blessed memory told my wife’s grandmother, when she complained that she feels alone in the world. He replied, “Remember that a Jew is never alone. As a Jew is always with G-d."


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